The SAT’s Satosphere has been giving a film experience unlike any other since 2011. To begin, the films are watched reclining against comfortable couches. Secondly, all the films I’ve seen there do not have conventional characters and plots. Rather, they are artistic shorts that prompt emotion by making the viewer feel as if he were part of the film itself. The latest installation of two approximately 20-minute films, Quantum and Nimbus, suggests to me that directors are still experimenting with the medium and exploring its possibilities.
Quantum (Francois Wunschel, Fernando Favier and Laurent Novac from 1024 Architecture) entails a geometric ball, a massive bucky ball I suppose, that appears to bounce down on the viewers and suck them into an unfamiliar land. There is no real color modulation — everything is done in a grayscale. The alien land is entirely composed of geometric shapes — icicle like triangular protrusions and rectangular building shapes. Viewers then journey through this land at a fast pace, music coordinated with the animation to make the heart pound. The film feels much like an IMAX nature film, as one swoops close to the landscape and then far away. The sensation is one of courting danger by weaving through densely packed buildings.
Nimbus (Joanie Lemercier and James Ginzberg) looks more like film footage, though this too is probably a digital construct. This too is an unfamiliar universe, post-apocalyptic in its ambiance with technological markers, but no people. At times, the viewer is brought through a forest that is gorgeously rendered as if one is looking up from a forest floor towards the leaves and sky. At some point, the viewer rises up through these trees. Another moment features what appears to be a massive, almost menacing, Buddhist temple (or other religious building) that fuzzes out into tiny grey spheres.
All in all the two films generate a response — excitement, awe, curiosity. Both are innovative and well-crafted, creative explorations of unfamiliar environments. Everything feels epic as if trying to address a great theme like power of nature or the scale of the universe. These are impressive feats of digital showmanship and they manipulate space and orientation in ways that are creative and convincing. Yet, I am not moved by any of these pieces. I don’t go away and feel as if my worldview has been altered or that I have a deeper understanding of the human condition. Instead, I am just impressed by the technology. I can’t stress that enough — this is mind bending stuff to watch. But, mostly my sense is that these visual artists are still exploring what they can manipulate in this particular medium.
My biggest complaint about the Satosphere is that the films feel cold and distant. None of the artists have dared risk a film with a clear protagonist, a conflict, a climax, a resolution. I have yet to see a film in the Satosphere that feels intimate or personal. Instead, the viewer is made to be the protagonist, as if one were participating as a character in a giant video game. The result, though, is that as a character, there is an uncomfortable tension between what I would do as a person and what the filmmaker makes me do as his main character. Ultimately, the problem is probably one of confidence. The artists do not yet trust or understand the medium enough to populate their worlds and put stories in them. The films are much more about wizardry of effect than depth of emotional content. I await the film that not only awes me with its ability to put me into another world, but also teaches me something about myself.
Nimbes and Quantum are at the SAT (1201 St. Laurent) until June 27. $17.